The New Jersey Devils finally landed in the win column after seven consecutive losses. It was a team effort as 13 different players hit the scoresheet. Goaltender Jon Gillies made 30 saves and earned praise from teammate Ryan Graves.
“He’s been thrown into a tough position. He was not in training camp. He wasn’t with us early,” Graves said. “He’s come in, he’s played well, he’s getting better each game, so it’s nice to see.”
Of course, fans will be quick to point out that New Jersey’s dominant victory came over the Montreal Canadiens, the worst team in the league, but a win is a win. Their power play went one-for-two, and their penalty kill was again perfect. The coaching staff made one lineup change, and it paid off. Here are three takeaways from last night’s victory.
Geertsen Makes an Impact
For the first time since Jan. 4, Mason Geertsen made the Devils lineup. He replaced Janne Kuokkanen on the fourth line and played alongside Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian. The coaching staff inserted the 6-foot-4 Alberta native into the lineup after the Ottawa Senators registered 44 hits against their team, and after the game, head coach Lindy Ruff praised Geertsen’s play.
“He’s the type of player that works extremely hard, and I think it’s a tool that we have that we can utilize more,” said Ruff. “He skates really well, defends really well, and knows what position to be in. He had a third assist on two goals and was a big part of tonight’s game for us. He’s physical and hard on the body, and we don’t have a lot of those guys.”
Geertsen stood in front of Montreal goaltender Cayden Primeau, which allowed McLeod to pick up a rebound around the net to get his first goal of the night. The Devils’ most physical player was on the ice for a little under 12 minutes and registered a team-leading four hits. He did everything right and was rewarded by being involved in two Devils goals.
Penalty Kill Success Leads to Impressive Second Period
We know the Devils have struggled in the second period this season. Many games have slipped away within 20 minutes of the middle frame, and a familiar story could have unfolded when Brett Kulak got on the board within the first six minutes of the second to cut New Jersey’s lead to one.
The Canadiens were then awarded three consecutive power-play opportunities. Bastian was the first Devils’ player to head to the penalty box, and the Devils killed it off and scored a goal before Damon Severson was called for interference. PK Subban was the last player to report to the penalty box, but it was smooth sailing from then on.
Jonas Siegenthaler and Graves played over four minutes shorthanded while four different forwards played over two minutes. The Devils’ penalty killers went a perfect three for three and helped destroy any Montreal momentum after Kulak’s goal.
Devils’ Depth Pieces Play Key Role
Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier, and Severson continue to hit the scoresheet. While all three earned at least a point in the victory, it was the Devils’ depth players who had the most impact, starting with a player who dominated in all areas of the ice.
McLeod had the second two-goal game of his career. Last night, he led all forwards with 16:37 of ice time, including 3:17 on the penalty kill. He was excellent in all areas and won 68 percent of his faceoffs. The 6-foot-2 forward has been a top center all season, and he was rewarded with a multi-point night.
During last night’s MSG Networks broadcast, Bryce Salvador said that he never mentioned Mercer’s name among the Devils who needed to step up. He felt that wasn’t up to the rookie to put this team on his shoulders, and I couldn’t agree more. General manager Tom Fitzgerald admitted during a sit down with Mike Morreale that he did not expect Mercer to play with the big club this season, and the 20-year-old has been exceeding expectations.
Last night, Mercer scored his first goal in 15 games, and his wrist shot gave the Devils a two-goal lead entering the first intermission. The Newfoundland native has been a bright spot this season, and last night marked his sixth multi-point game – he earned the primary assist on Hischier’s goal in the second period. Mercer was named the game’s first star.
23-year-old Jesper Boqvist has been playing the best hockey of his career. Against the Canadiens, he earned a goal and an assist and now has five points in his last five games. The Swedish center is making the most of his time with the Devils after starting this season with the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League. It will be tough to pull him out of the lineup with the way he has been contributing to the team.
The Devils will play their final game of this road trip on Thursday when they face the St. Louis Blues at Enterprise Center. It will be the team’s first trip to St. Louis since Feb. 2020.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.